24-Apr-2004 -- We set off with the aim of crossing the southern Sinai and staying off the blacktop and get 29N 34E on the way. The best map of Sinai we could find had a track that appeared to join wādiy systems and would let us cross close to the Confluence. However, it had gone to a single dashed line so we could not be sure.
We left Cairo about 10 a.m. and headed east and then down the western coast of the Sinai peninsula. We left the coast road and drove up Wādiy al-Ḥumur and then across the Ramlat Ḥimiyar, south of the impressive Jabal al-Tīh escarpment, past the forest of pillars and into what we called "The Cauldron". Here the escarpment closed in a crescent wādiy confluence, one of which we hoped to use in the climb to the Confluence. On the first night we camped overnight in Wādiy Huraykh, on the edge of "The Cauldron". In the morning, after changing Rick's tyre (it went down overnight), we headed out northeast along a small west-flowing wādiy to connect up with the east-flowing wādiy holding the Confluence. Unfortunately, after much boulder crawling following a carefully marked Bedouin track, we ended up boxed in at the end of Wādiy Huraykh. Dave's single dotted line marked on his map did not connect between wādiy heads, but stopped at a dry waterfall and pool below. We believe the Bedouin track was used to collect water from the pool before it dried up. We were 10 km short of the Confluence but we had no option but to crawl back across the boulders again.
Not daunted, Dave had marked out what looked like a definite "Chicken Run" through a wādiy to the south, to connect up with a major wādiy system from which we thought we may be able to cut north through the jabals to the Confluence. So we hit sand southwards, but skirted east in the hope of finding a viable route through the crescent scarp to our east before finally having to settle on the "Chicken Run" option. No route and no luck, Cullen shredded his type and rim cutting through a sandy bottomed wādiy with more than a few boulders.
We hit the Chicken Run and after some good going wādiy bottom sand driving, we found the tight part of the wādiy with, again, a lot of high boulders to pick our way over. We ended up in another dead-end canyon with a goat track passing southeast into boulder strewn jabals (at first there was some excitement as from a distance it looked like the meanest 4WD track on the planet ... but no luck), and an impassable boulder strewn coll going to the east. Our dead cert Chicken Run option had proven to be a no-go, and this cast serious doubts on our map which had a nice double dash track marked across the wādiy head. There was an unexplained open box symbol on the map where we had to stop, box canyon perhaps?
Richard had lost all confidence in GPS and maps by this time and wanted to try some dead reckoning. So we decided to head into Wādiy Imlayḥ to the south across a dozered coll that made an interesting scrambling and lurching climb. On the satellite images Wādiy Imlayḥ looked like a pretty good bet to connect up with the main cross-Sinai wādiy system going to the east. After crawling across the coll, we sped off along the wādiy bottom and hit wādiy end again, where an agricultural program was underway. The local Bedouin, working on manually digging water wells, informed us that indeed the Chicken Run should have been our route, but it was difficult to see how from where we had been.
As the day was getting on we decided against another attempt on the Chicken Run. We had an excellent chicken curry lunch (thanks Liza) under a nice shady tree that grew natural toothpicks, and then headed off on another major south wādiy system to connect up with the main al-Ṭūr to Nuwayba` (St Catherine's) Road.
Easier said than done. At about 3 p.m. we skirted 10 km west of the campsite that we had left at 8 a.m. the same morning, and we picked our way into familiar territory (from our last Sinai trip). Armed with way-points we sped down Wādiy Sayḥ but this time branched south along Wādiy Bayraq. We were now out of waypoint territory and relying on the map again. The turn off was not obvious and we missed it at first attempt, but after backtracking a few kms we got very poor directions from a local Bedouin and, through trial and error, his directions led us to another Bedouin camp where we picked up a free guide who needed a lift. The guide took us up and across the head of Wādiy Bayraq. A great bouncy boulder strewn track drive that got us to the top of Wādiy Bayraq and a great view. Off we went down into Wādiy Labwa where we dropped the guide, and sped off in the wrong direction! Cullen to the left, headed up this track that veered off to the East where we didn't want to be. We backtracked and Dave then selected another wrong wādiy to shoot off along. Eventually, after Rick asked another Bedouin who pointed us to the right track, we climbed a sand-filled, wide coll with smooth motoring. Over the top of the coll the track brought us to an even more spectacular view, and after pausing briefly, we carried on past old army bunkers and granite boulders set as tank traps. Eventually, at 5 p.m., we arrived at the E-W blacktop still west of St. Catherine's.
We made it to Basata camp on the beach at about 7:30, pitched tents and apart from minor altercations with the staff about food, and that had the tears welling up in Kiki's eyes (she was a hungry little girl by this time), we eventually chilled on fish and beer in a local restaurant. The next day we had a lazy breakfast, relaxed at the beach, and then cruised up the coast to Ṭābā, stopping on the way for swims along the edges of some nice reefs (masks and snorkels a must next time), before making Cairo at about 7 p.m.
We were disappointed that we had not achieved our two objectives but it was a great trip with some amazing scenery, and a chilled out beach camp and coastal drive at the end. Just have to go back and try again from the south or east will be our best options.